Happy President’s Day everyone! Though I’m not finished with this short story, I’m going to upload part of it to hear everyone’s critique. It includes my favorite kind of “hero” the mousy, foolish type who wonders what his purpose is in life. Since it is much longer than a short story, I’ve broken it up in sections (Acts) to make it easier for everyone to follow. I’ll be working on Act II today and will probably upload it next Monday.
Feel free to leave a comment below and if you’re interested in short story updates follow me @katyaszew!
Written by: Katya Szewczuk
CLYDE SHANIT AND THE GLOOMY VILLAGE OF MISERES
There was a hesitation, but soon the little, smiling monkey clapped his golden cymbals. I looked upon the fellow in awe and threaded my needle through his tiny, red Fez hat. He continued scooting within my palm, but suddenly stopped.
The sounds were troublesome. I wound up the winding key, waited, but the monkey no longer clapped his cymbals. He sat there, mocking me with his smiling face.
Anger flushed my cheeks and caused me to toss the plaything into the wastebasket. I noticed it was overflowing with my rubbish and gathered it to carry it out to the village’s scrapyard. I was about to head into the dreary weather, when I stopped and stared outside my window where nettlesome folks prattled and fussed.
All along the streets, folks were clothed in black. Even the littlest of tots were donned in grimy, old bonnets with loose seams and raggedy lace. Dust swarmed round these wretched folks and coughed out of their trousers. They gathered to the center of the gloomy village’s courtyard and stared upon the bulgy, gray clouds that swarmed like a haze of summertime mosquitoes.
There they stood, frowns on their lips and a glum in their eyes, waiting for the sudden blizzard to blanket the skies in frost. A haggard, wrinkled, old man beat a frying pan with a wooden spoon and frightened the local crows that squawked and lurked near the brick bakery. His name was Mr. Goosebottom, the village’s rickety sales-merchant. He had a fat, red nose, a hairy bruised lip, a crooked spine and curious eyes looking in every direction. He was dressed in a tattered frockcoat with measly tears in the right breast pocket and wore spit-shinned shoes with holes in the toes. He wavered his sales’ flyers in the air and hounded the local schoolboys.
“Take a look at me trinkets,” he would gabble, “I’ll bet you a nickel, no, a dime, you’ll find ye’self a bargain.”
He was a lively, old fellow with a charming face and a wooden buggy filled with brilliant knick-knacks and gadgets. He told the children of Misères— who adored him and sang praises to him—all about his thrilling adventures and where the wind had taken him. It was a mighty good tale, even when I was a lad, how an old merchant was able to survive beyond the village walls, where creeping things stalked through the forests and the roaring wind swept over the violent oceans.
The people of Misères shunned Mr. Goosebottom and anyone who dared to venture outside of the walls. They hadn’t liked how he sweetened the children’s hopes and dreams with, as they called, falsehoods. They wanted the children to grow up without any smiles or laughter and live beside this gray, gray world.
Every morning the people would gather in the courtyard, plant their feet like roots, and wait for any form of excitement to happen so they could hurry about and cause a commotion for Mayor Candlewick. Though, no matter how long they stared upon the tedious skies, nothing would happen.
Church bells tolled in the center of town and suddenly I found myself toiling through these lackluster streets dressed in a weathered dress-shirt and suit, my white hair in shambles, my teeth chattering and hands wrapped round a sturdy, dust-ridden suitcase. What was inside was most important. Unlike the ‘clickety-clackety’ monkey, these wind-up toys were my life’s work.
The church was small and dainty. A wooden cross-stood proud upon the roof and despite the murk it shined in brilliance. A small orchard grew pleasantly besides the building tangled in ivy that crawled upon the church’s red brittle bricks and made an untidy home in the crevasses. Young children played here, but seemed to keep their heads in the sand whenever a miserly goosey man passed and twirled his tangled mustache.
“Clyde,” a young fellow with gray skin, willowy bones and droopy brown eyes whispered, “Any toys in that there pouch of yours?”
“You must keep quiet, Hansel, Mayor Candlewick is the ears and eyes of this village.”
Hansel Monty was a skinny, little thing dressed in black rags and wore a tattered, old cap upon his shaggy hair. Every morn he’d come to me at the croak of dawn wondering whether I’d crafted any new measly wind-up toys for the townsfolk. He was a smart, little fellow with bright eyes and a charming propensity for adventure. Much like I was when I was a daring chap, he hadn’t cared what the stingy grownups thought of him—thought it was wicked to steal from merchants like Mr. Goosebottom every now and then, why, I won’t blame the lad.
The look on Hansel’s face was rather bewitching, dare I say, when he gawked at my suitcase as if it were a thing of gold. He and his friends, better known as the Slum Bats, flicked glass-eyed marbles in the orchard and kept their treasures hidden from any wandering grown-ups. Though I was headed for the days of cheerlessness myself, these young’uns looked up to me and even begged me to play a game of marbles with them after the witching hours of night. It was an honor to be accepted by these rebellious youths, much more of a disbelief than any proud tribute. The people of Misères rejected me and shrunk by my lily-livered presence. Had I ever thought that one day the Slum Bats themselves would place judgment upon me, my heart would be shattered.
Fixing my wrinkled tie, I toiled into the church with Hansel and the Slum Bats and sat in the front pews where I could see the beautiful, stain-glassed windows of reds, greens and blues, the lofty ceiling’s murals that told the story of Heaven’s grandeur, the alter that thrived with bushels of flourishing flowers and golden crosses, a vestibule that had kept Father Henry O’Boyle hidden as he prayed in a silent hum, and faces of the townsfolk whose eyes were tightly shut, lips trembling and hands folded to their chests.
Scents of sweet incents tickled my nose and made the Slum Bats cough as they too joined in on the silent prayer. How sad it was that Mayor Candlewick hadn’t even joined us in piety, that he was too busy to give his thanks. Never once, even when I was a lad, had I seen the man or his family waltz into the church. It hadn’t been work that kept him absent it was his pride.
There weren’t many people who were present in the church, many were too afraid to even enter because Mayor Candlewick hadn’t given them the order. The people here were old and withered and had much more passion in their eyes than the folks of my period. They, much like Mr. Goosebottom, were scorned.
One old geezer, going by the name of Michael Springs took his seat beside the Slum Bats and gave me a small wink. His dark, scratched-up knees wobbled when he knelt in the pew and his cane trembled in his craggy hands. He was one of the men who dared to venture outside the walls and had knowledge beyond reasoning. Despite my pedigree, he, like Hansel, always enjoyed hearing stories about my wind-up toys and sang praises to me. He was a good man with a heart full of joy and hopefulness.
The church bells tolled again when the elderly, Slum Bats and I walked outside and continued with the tardy day’s procedures. Michael spotted me out of the small crowd and placed his hands upon me.
“My good man,” he hummed, “Could you make my granddaughter a toy dolly of her own? It’s her birthday soon, almost a Christmas baby, and it would mean the world to me seeing I can’t afford to buy her a new dress.”
“Of course,” I replied.
“And your pay?” the old fellow asked as he rummaged through his holey pockets.
“A smile from your granddaughter, Mr. Springs.”
The requests of the townsfolk had never surprised me and kept me busier than a bee during springtime. Many were innocent children like the Slum Bats and the elderly like Michael, but every once in a while a request had come from a man or woman in my years—but it was a rare find.
After Michael blessed me with his joyous cries, I treaded through the cold cobblestone streets, down copse roads and through a thicket of bare trees with the Slum Bats and reached a building that seemed to glimmer in a menacing gold. Unlike the brick homes that crumped together in a heap far from it, this building was rich in splendor and was crafted out of the finest stone found in the village’s silver mines. There wasn’t a chip, a scratch or a bruise found in each block, and if you even leant upon its walls you would be arrested for trespassing.
This building was called The Misères Courts where the Candlewick family lived and prospered, coddled by servants and cleansed in waters of shilling. No one had ever seen the family walk amongst the streets of paupers and thieves; many have believed their existence to be but a myth and a childish telltale so Mayor Candlewick could frighten the townsfolk into becoming his galley slaves. Yet, I knew they existed—Mayor Candlewick, his batty wife, their fourteen, pampered sons and one sang-froid daughter— all too well because I’ve witnessed their pompous and smug demeanors, and spoke in their language of greed.
 shilling: a former British coin and monetary unit equal to one twentieth of a pound or twelve pence.